LinkedIn News suggested this article Don’t Be a Perfectionist“, and I have a problem with it. Why? Because it’s a bunch of platitudes lined with crap (shut up, socially-challenged perfectionist-in-me) it misses the point and gives advice that is of no use to a perfectionist (high-C people, in DISC parlance).

Imagine you are overweight, and some very successful thirty-something serial entrepreneur comes to you saying: “Don’t Be Fat”. Useful, eh? Well, it’s exactly what the article suggests, only to a group which scores among the best linguistically-gifted segments of the population and would actually enjoy finding new, articulate, imaginative ways to tell the successful entrepreneur what a layman would trivially phrase as “fuck off”.

OK, enough comedy.

Sure, there are liabilities to perfectionism, and the article correctly points them out: overwork, needless effort, lack of delegation, burn-out, and eventually reduced professional recognition. Still, “Don’t be a Perfectionist” is not a useful advice.

If you are a perfectionist, you know it’s not something you choose to be: it’s how you are, like being tall. But, unlike being tall, perfectionism is a habit that can be changed, or at least temperated, in time.

I work with perfectionist all the time, coaching IT managers and staff (who rank very high in terms of perfectionism) into what I dubbed “post-autistic IT“. And I know they can change their attitude, provided the right reasons to do so. Here are some I have seen to work:

  • recognise perfection is context-dependent: not recognising context is a defect, so do what you can with what you have and call it perfect. You can improve.
  • Recognise perfection is people-dependent, some people will simply never see the beauty of perfect code or of the Parthenon; not acknowledging other people’s limitations is also a defect, you can improve.
  • Recognise perfection is often what you ask of yourself, not what others ask of you: so your response is less than perfect, right? Again, you can improve.
  • Recognise perfectionism is a gift given to a few; so choosing the wrong people (and moment, see above) to indulge in perfectionism is a defect. Even here, you can improve.
  • Recognise most people just do not care about your idea of perfection, even other perfectionists. Even you don’t, sometimes: if your kid is drowning in the river you do not worry about your lack of swimsuit or imperfect crawl, do you?
  • Also, if you resent how the world treats your perfectionism, recognise you are following a flawed logic: you seek (your own idea of) perfection because you think other people cannot see it; and yet, you somehow would want the very same people to recognise perfection in your work.
And, if most perfectionist, you think you are fundamentally alone in this world (as in “the perfect perfectionist”), my Deep DISC Slideshare may give you a hint of how common our character traits are.

There are many, many more things to be said on the subject, and this post is little more than a remark.

But, you see, I needed it out today. So, it’s perfect.

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